Chillicothe officials & residents working to save 'Rescue 33'

By Maggie Vespa

August 20, 2012 Updated Aug 21, 2012 at 9:19 AM CDT

CHILLICOTHE, Ill.-- It's the service you hope you will never need. It's also one residents in a local town are not willing to risk going without.

So after learning their longtime, volunteer-run ambulance service might be in jeopardy, many say they're willing to do what it takes to keep it running. That includes footing the bill.

You don't have to look far from Chillicothe's main street to find someone who has used it.

"I used them about a month and a half ago," said resident Judith Gajdik. "My husband insisted. I ended up having tendonitis, but because it was in this arm, he thought I was having a heart attack."

"Two days ago, my uncle, heart attack, and they got him in. Everything's ok," said Richard Rowell.

"We have called for our customers on numerous occasions, and every time they were prompt and did a really good job for us," said Shelly Berger, owner of 2nd Street Bar & Grill.

Lately, directors of the area's nearly 50 year-old free ambulance service, 'Rescue 33', say the fight to keep up with emergency calls has gotten harder.

"It started out in the late 60's with 13 guys thinking 100 calls a year was something," said president Ron Hedden. "Now we're up to like 12-hundred.."

Recently the state of Illinois notified directors Rescue 33 was on probation, due to lagging response times.

"Still trying to run it the same way with volunteers, it's too much for the volunteers," said Hedden.

Last week, Chillicothe's city council stepped in, voting to place a referendum on the November ballot.

If approved it would give officials the authority to enact a .25% property-based tax hike, dubbed the "ambulance tax".

Chillicothe officials say if enacted, that "ambulance tax" would bring in up to $200,000 for the city. The money could be used to fund Rescue 33 or other emergency operations.

Directors say they're not sure that's the solution, but they agree something's got to change.

Residents we spoke with say if it is the solution, there's no debate.

"(Would that be worth it in your mind?) It would be in my mind, to make sure we have local service," said Berger.

"It's a good organization. We're lucky to have them," said Gajdik.

"I'd pay it. Sure," said Rowell. "I may need it one day."